As months go, February sees quite a change. On the first day, here in Stirling, sunrise was at 8.12 a.m. and sunset was at 16.47, a day length of 8 hours and 35 minutes; now, on February 28th, sunrise is 7.11 a.m. and sunset is at 17.47 a day length of 10 hours and 36 minutes, 2 hours longer – or to be more precise, an extra hour at each end of the day and all this in twenty-eight days.
For gardeners, that extra two hours makes all the difference as plants begin to waken from their winter hibernation, buds are beginning to swell and open and familiar insects are rousing from their cosy winter nests. We have a large winter-flowering honeysuckle tucked in beside the twisted skeleton of the old Wisteria. It has been absolutely bedecked with fragrant white and lemon flowers clinging to the bare branches so it was delightful to spend a few minutes last week watching the first of our honey bees foraging on the blossom, literally taking advantage of the warm sunshine to stretch its wings and have a good feed from all the flowers. The food gathered from early spring flowers will help the bee colony to survive should the winter weather return and doubtless gives them a much-needed boost of flavour, vitamins and minerals.
Our snowdrops are in full bloom and there are a few areas where the density of the flowers makes it look almost as though a carpet of snow has fallen. I noticed that as the path disappears into the gloom of the woodland walk, the snowdrop flowers are like little neon lanterns shining vividly to light the edges of a safe path to follow and elsewhere in the gardens they stand in nodding clumps, as though they are gossiping with each other after the long dark winter nights. Snowdrops belong to the family of plants known as monocots, (from the Latin mono – one, cotyledon – seed leaf). This means that as they begin to grow they send up a single, spear-like leaf e.g. iris, lily, daffodil or bamboo. The flowers are usually formed in multiples of three and on a sunny day, the outer petals open fully making the blossoming flower resemble a tiny ballerina in mid-flight. Snowdrops are usually white with a tinge of green but they are not all the same. If you have a closer look you will see that some have single flowers and some have double flowers, or some have long outer petals like mini helicopter blades, whilst others have short stubby outer petals like Mickey-Mouse ears and occasionally you will find a variety with a yellow blob on the inner ‘tube’ instead of the usual green ‘V’ shape. Next time you come across some, have a closer look – you might get a pleasant surprise. Oh, and while I remember, a large carpet of snowdrops is called a ‘joy’ a ‘cheer’ or a ‘hope’ of snowdrops. I’ll leave it to you to choose which one you prefer.
The Larch trees lining the motorway embankment to the rear of the house have had to be felled as they are diseased. Phytophtera ramosum is a fungal-like organism that causes the death of a wide range of trees and shrubs. The greatest impact so far in Scotland has been on larch but it can also seriously affect rhododendron and has even been known to affect birch trees and cause Sudden Oak death. This has come as a bit of a shock to all of us as the house is now exposed to the elements, particularly the north and west wind and the motorway traffic can be clearly seen from almost everywhere on site. There are a few remaining pine and spruce trees dotted along the embankment but they are now very vulnerable to any strong NW winds. It is always sad to see any tree felled but to see so many going down in one day is really a tragedy. One of our resident buzzards was reluctant to give up her favourite spot but had no option as the tree that was being cut down began to shudder and we could see that the bird was unnerved by events. She flew off, circling overhead a few times before realising that the tree was no longer there and then joined by her mate, they both flew away to a safer perch. We know her nest is not in that tree and the tree cutters are aware that they cannot fell any tree with a nest so we know she was safe but it was still sad to see her dislodged so abruptly and sadly this year’s chicks will have to learn to fly in a different part of the estate. We hope that the motorway maintenance people will replant the verge and maybe soon we will have some strong new trees stretching up to the sky but for the next few years, we are going to be living in a more windswept environment in full view of passing traffic.